How a western band gecko eats a scorpion

Western striped geckos don’t look like they would win a fight. Yet this unassuming predator feeds on venomous scorpions, and a field study published in the March Biological Journal of the Linnean Society shows how the lizards shoot down such dangerous prey.

Geckos bite the scorpion, banging their heads and upper bodies back and forth, knocking the scorpion to the ground with their bodies, a new high-speed video reveals. “The behavior is so fast you can’t see what’s really happening,” says San Diego State University biologist Rulon Clark. †[You] watch the gecko lunge and then see this crazy motion blur…like trying to look at a hummingbird’s wings.

Clark first noticed the behavior in the 1990s, during fieldwork in the Sonoran Desert near Yuma, Arizona. When he returned with colleagues to study kangaroo rats and rattlesnakes, the team also filmed geckos. The researchers captured western striped geckos (Coleonyx variegatus) and dune scorpions (Smeringurus mesaensis) in the desert at night (along with harmless arthropods, such as field crickets and roach, to compare), documenting the confrontations.

Watch western striped geckos sneak up on some scorpions.

Gecko’s normal feeding behavior usually involves lunging, grabbing prey with their mouths, and chewing it, Clark says. With scorpions, it’s totally different after the first lunge. Such shake feeding is a well-known method for carnivores and adventurous eaters. For example, dolphins shake (and throw) octopuses before they eat (SN: 25-04-17

The fact that this delicate, cold-blooded species not known for speed can make such physical movements is impressive, says Clark. Songbirds called loggerhead shrikes beat larger predators in circles (SN: 7/7/18), but at a lower frequency (11 hertz compared to 14 Hz in geckos). Whiptail lizards also shake scorpions violently, but at unknown speeds. The closest documented similarity to the speed of gecko shake feeding is that small mammals shake themselves dry; guinea pigs also clock in at about 14 Hz.

It is unclear how common this behavior is in geckos. And aside from generally subduing a venomous enemy, how it works — killing the scorpion, immobilizing it, damaging its stinger, or reducing how much venom is injected — remains a mystery.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.